The door that opened for me was the most unexpected one and it made no sense, but I walked in.
December 2008. A part-time position opened up at a retirement community, a job I was neither qualified for, nor felt excited about. As a brand-new immigrant, I knew nothing about seniors in the western world: not their music or food or lifestyle. I had no clue why the universe was opening that door.
My job in the retirement community was to help seniors learn basic computer skills so they'd be able to write emails and share pictures with their families scattered far and wide. The only part of the job that sparked my excitement was this: I had to listen to the stories of the elderly and write them up, so the stories wouldn't be lost to their families.
Exactly a month after I started this position, my mother died in India. I was back on a plane to participate in her last rites.
When I returned to Chicago, I was deep in grief.
But who better than the elderly to guide me through my grief, for they were no strangers to loss.
Soon, we were holding space for each other. I was experiencing the utterly desolate grief of dislocation: being dislocated from my home country, my family, and now my mother.
The seniors were experiencing the grief of being dislocated from neighborhoods they'd lived in for decades, homes they'd built and loved.
Together, we cried. We laughed. We shared stories. They taught me about their culture; I taught them about mine.
The universe had placed me exactly where I was needed -- and could heal and be healed.
I became the beloved daughter to many in that community who grieved being emotionally estranged from family members. I became many others' trusted confidante.
Working with the elderly who are in their winter years is a wonderful training ground in patience, love, and gratitude for what is still possible.
It became apparent very quickly that the seniors hated the computer lab and had little motivation to use their arthritic, slow-moving fingers to learn how to work the keyboard. What they enjoyed was telling stories.
So I started the community's first-ever Storytelling Group. It gave them a regular space to express parts of their lives no one knew. It also became a safe space for new residents in the community to find friends in a community full of strangers.
Many of them were also dealing with challenging illnesses and age-related issues. They were like flickering candle flames, close to the end of their light-giving life. This was a huge lesson for me in learning to love and lose without holding back.
I had to become intimate with death and dying.
A senior I'd lost my heart to would one day no longer be in my group -- and I had to mourn those losses. So many times. Over and over again.
Even as I grew more and more comfortable with my job, the economy was still reeling. My hours dwindled to nothing over time. The company was laying off contractors regularly. I knew it was only a matter of time.
Five hours a week wasn't doing it for me -- or the seniors. I felt shackled in the worst possible way. I wanted to do so much but didn't have permission to.
Something had to give.
Next week, I'll share more about the next step that the universe guided me to.
If you enjoyed this story, my book Losing Amma, Finding Home is chock full of stories about how I received my purpose through the worst pain I endured. Click the link above to learn more.